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Found Objects

A found object is an object which is not originally made for an artistic purpose, but rather transformed by artists into artistic materials or objects for their creation. As literally defined, it is a ‘found’ or ‘acquired’ object by an artist, and it is brought into the artist’s creation only when he or she sees the aesthetic value implied in it.

Pablo Picasso is regarded as one of originators who first publicized this idea. In his 1912 Still Life with Chair Caning, Picasso involved a piece of oil-cloth as a visual alternative to a real chair caning (which he bought in in a department store) and a rope as a frame for a canvas. It is his very first synthetic collage and became a prototype of all later coming ready-made experiments.

Pablo Picasso
Still Life with the Caned Chair, 1912
Oil on oil-cloth over canvas edged with rope
29 x 37 cm (11 2/5 x 14 3/5 in.)
Réunion des Musées Nationaux / Art Resource, NY
© Artists Rights Society, NY
Photo by R.G. Ojeda / Picasso, Pablo (1881-1973)

Marcel Duchamp
Bicycle Wheel, 1951 (third version, after lost original of 1913)
Metal wheel mounted on painted wood stool
129.5 x 63.5 x 41.9 cm (51 x 25 x 16 1/2 in.)
The Sidney and Harriet Janis Collection
© 2019 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris / Estate of Marcel Duchamp

While Picasso and his contemporaries had showed how the artists can use the everyday objects for their creation, a DaDa artist Marcel Duchamp took this idea one step further, and developed it into a genre of fine contemporary arts. Duchamp, who was interested in ideas itself, not merely in visual products, used everyday objects for his creation if he believes it is the best medium to deliver his idea. Duchamp’s approach to objects has had a wide range of influence in the contemporary art and its spirit since it suggested the artists nowadays to focus on intellectual pursuit, rather than just pursuing of materiality and technical perfection.

Italian art historian Germano Celant first used the term Arte Povera (literally, meaning ‘poor art’) in the 1960s to describe a group of artists in Italy, including Alighieri Boetti, Franceso Lo Savio, Giuseppe Penone, Jannis Kounellis, and Michelangelo Pistoletto, who used humble and abandoned materials in a way that rejected the previous European modernist movement and commercialized art industry. Departing from the conventional idea about fine art materials, these artists were more actively engaged with accessible materials found easily in their everyday lives so that broke down the hierarchies of ‘what it was believed as art’ and ‘common objects.’

Artists in the present time no longer impose any restrictions on their use of materials. Rather than just bringing it to a material for creation, they read the story hidden in it, and reveal its true meaning, or sometimes unexpected meaning it has.

Giuseppe Penone
Penone Versailles, 2013
Château de Versailles, France
© Archivio Penone
Photo by Tadzio

“An ordinary object could be elevated to the dignity of a work of art by the mere choice of an artist.”

Marcel Duchamp

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